Hotel of the week: Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah

Dubai is the ultimate tourist playground. And they know all about how to make your stay a pleasurable one at the Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah. We're talking serious excess here...

Dubai's an ugly place at first sight, its skies filled with multi-storey hotels and armies of cranes at work building new tourist playgrounds. But pass through the gates of the Madinat Jumeirah and forget that dusty, industrial landscape. This pleasure palace bills itself as "the new city of Arabia". And with good reason. The Madinat Jumeirah is a toy-town for tourists, with two boutique hotels, a cluster of summer houses, a fabulous Talise spa, a huge souk and, count them, 41 restaurants, cafés and bars.

Pride of place goes to the Al Qasr, a sprawling low-rise hotel designed to re-create an Arabian sheikh's summer residence, slightly elevated to assert its place in the pecking order and suitably opulent. But understated chic has no place here. We're talking serious excess - the order of the day in Dubai - from gold horses frozen mid-gallop at the entrance to the chandelier in the lobby, made from £120,000 worth of Swarovski crystal. Prepare to be dazzled.

The location

Its prime waterfront location overlooks the Arabian Gulf, just a 20-minute, air-conditioned drive from the international airport.

The comfort factor

Each of the 292 rooms at Al Qasr - which are either sea-facing or overlooking the fabulous Little Venice-style waterway that runs through the resort - is spacious, with comfy sofas, a huge TV, internet access, fax machine, and a surprisingly low number of gold-plated furnishings. The beds are every bit as majestic as they look on the website, with plush pillows and tip-top bed linen.

The bathroom

There's a marble bath, separate shower and twin sinks. Madinat Jumeirah has its own range of bathroom products (one line for men, one for women) and they've thought of everything you might need, right down to a nail file. They're not stingy with the towels, either.

The food and drink

If it's local fare you're after, bad luck. Of the 41 restaurants and bars in the resort, only a handful serve Middle Eastern dishes. The rest offer a range of cuisine from around the world. It's worth getting up for breakfast: not only do you get to enjoy your muesli under the Swarovski chandelier, but there is also a huge - frankly excessive - buffet on offer. Continental breakfast? Pah - here you can have a wide range of sushi, meats and cheeses to go with your coffee and croissant.

The people

Men dressed in the simple, local dress hobnob quite happily with the vast array of footballers' wives. There's no shortage of businessmen on breaks and groups of young ones maxing out daddy's credit card. And the staff? The resort employs more than 3,000 people, so it's likely you will never see the same member of staff twice. There are 200 lifeguards alone.

The area

Madinat Jumeirah is a millionaire's playground, so huge that you could quite happily spend the duration of your stay on site. The resort's souk has 72 shops. But for a taste of local life, hop on a dhow and sail across the creek to weave your way through the web of souks in the Old Deira district. Or head to Al Karama, where fake designer bags are 10 a penny. Dubai is low on high art, but you might fancy popping into the city's museum - it won't take long to walk around and will set you back only a few dirhams (50p).

The access

There is wheelchair access throughout the hotel, although the resort's waterway makes exploring Madinat Jumeirah a little tricky. Children can hang out in Sinbad's Kid's Club, and the Quay Health Club has a crèche. There is also a babysitting service.

The damage

British Airways Holidays (0870 243 3406; ba.com/holidays) offers four nights at the Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai from £1,112 per person, based on two sharing, for departures in May. The price includes return scheduled flights from Heathrow, return transfers, and b&b at the Al Qasr.

The address

75157 Intersection Al Sufouh Road PO Box 75157, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (00 971 4 366 8888; madinatjumeirah.com).

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